His name has become synonymous with humour, particularly Deccani humour. Think of Sulaiman Khateeb and what comes to mind is poetry dipped in pure Deccani dialect. His special brand of poetry has immortalised the lingua franca of Deccani Muslims. No wonder decades after his death, Sulaiman Khateeb remains the undisputed king of Deccani shayeri.
To relish his poetry, one has to get the pronunciation of Deccani words right. This is what adds to the flavour of Khateeb’s poetry. If a reader’s accent and articulation is not correct, the desired effect may not be there. Much before him poets like Mullah Nusrati, Ibne Nishati, Wali Deccani and Quli Qutb Shah have produced a voluminous body of work in Deccani language.
But, Khateeb’s poetry is totally different. It has an in-your-face element and is characterised by biting wit and inherent irony – all couched in Deccani phrases. Even as his verses make you break into laughter they also make you aware of the malaise the poet is trying to point out.
Thanks to the All India Radio, his satirical verses enjoy pan India popularity. His poetry has become such an integral part of Deccan that many consider him as one of the minarets of Charminar.
A people’s poet, Khateeb spoke the common man’s language and used the Deccani lingo to express his feelings effectively. He was born in Chitguppa village of Bidar district in the erstwhile Hyderabad State and, therefore, one finds the rural ambience reflected in his poetry.
His poetry bears influence of Kannada, Telugu and Marathi languages. Khateeb had a difficult time growing up as he lost his parents at an early age and couldn’t go to school till the age of 10. Later, with the support of his elder brother, he had his early education in Medak district of Telangana. In 1941, he landed the job of a foreman in Water Works Department in Gulbarga.
Khateeb was bitten by the poetry bug at an early age. A keen observer that he was, he didn’t have to look far for inspiration. There was enough in the environment he grew up to serve as fodder for imagination. Besotted as he was with Deccani culture, he used the Deccani language to address the social issues and community problems.
Deccani dialect and locally used metaphors came in handy for him to take potshots at the ills of the society in a fun-filled manner. He gave a Deccani touch to every Urdu word. At his hand ‘tanqah’ became tanqa, ‘dard’ became darad and ‘chand’ turned into chan’. Those unfamiliar with the Deccani language will be at a loss to decipher the meaning of Daat keeli (chokda), dagali (shaaq), baikan (auraten), chumni (charagh).
With his style of rendition, Khateeb was a big hit at mushairas. To use a Deccani phrase, he virtually ‘looted’ them and unleashed a laugh riot. See how he captures the romantic thoughts of an illiterate villager who is enamoured of his padosan:
Tu khaban main aye to mai had-bada ko
Andhre main uth uth ko dhaba po aatun
Mai bhirkatun bande, mai sitiyan bajatun
Tu gammat hai gammat hamari padosan
Khateeb was alive to the problems of people and his poetry held mirror to the sad state of affairs. In his nazm ‘Athais Tareeq’, he gives a vivid description of the troubles faced by a clerk’s family when he dies towards the end of the month. His widow goes to his grave and laments thus:
Aisa marna bhi kaika marna ji
Phool tak mai udhar laee hun
Itta ahsan hum po karna tha
Tanqah lene ke baad marna tha
The speciality of Khateeb’s poetry is that many a gem of advise is hidden in the verses. His shayeri focuses on not just the vicissitudes of life, but also talks about nature and social ills. By articulating even sensitive and delicate ideas in a humorous way, he has proved that Deccani has the capacity to express anything and everything. The sharp and witty encounter between the jahil saas and padhi-likhi bahu remains a classic. This poem is unique in that here Khateeb uses Deccani words for the illiterate mother-in-law and literary Urdu for the educated daughter-in-law. One never tires of reading this poem. It was a rage on the AIR during the 80s and the drama was broadcast regularly on public demand. Sample the tongue-in-cheek saas-bahu exchanges:
Tere logan jo ghar ko aate hain
Kis ke bawa ka khana khate hain
Jhadu kan ke ujaad kangalan
Mere bacche ko sab dubate hain
The bahu replies to this harangue in a calm and sober manner:
Kaun dar par kisi ke jaata hai
Waqt majboor kar ke laata hai
Banda parvar ye baat hai itni
Banda bande ke kaam aata hai
Khateeb published his poems under the title Kewde Ka Bann. The anthology is named so as he was very fond of the kewda flower. Moreover, this particular flower triggered a flood of memories in the poet. In one of his poems Khateeb says:
Yaad bole to takiye main gajre ki baas
Jaise kewde ka kanta kaleje ke paas
This collection of Khateeb’s poems is a veritable treasure trove. It has about 100 poems on different topics, including a few naaths. Some of the poems which gained immense popularity are: Pagdandi, Saas-Bahu, Pahli Tareeq, Daccani Aurat ka Intezar, Chora Chori, Harraj ka Palang and Tang Patlon.
Khateeb was influenced by lokgeet and started collecting them before he wrote his first folk song –meetha meetha mot ka paani. In one of his poems, Khateeb sprinkles a generous dose of English words to describe the outpourings of a London returned son at his father’s grave:
Lovely father maze main sota hai
Um to dunya main bore hota hai
Apne dil main tumara izzat hai
Kitte honour ka jeena jeeta hai
Jitta milta hai um ko juvve main
Naam le ko tumara peeta hai
Khateeb bagged many awards from different organisations. He was also bestowed the Rajyotsava Award by the Karnataka government in 1974 in recognition of his contribution to Deccani Urdu poetry. After his death in 1978, a road in Basaveshar colony was named after him by the Kalaburagi City Corporation as Sulaiman Khateeb Marg. However, the poet was of the view that he was not given due recognition by his own people. In one of his verses he says:
Minje naich pehchane loganch mere
Mai anmol heera hun Deccan ke khan ka